• Wed
  • Jul 23, 2014
  • Updated: 2:00am

Wells Fargo takes shelter in Asia with bigger team

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:05pm

Wells Fargo, the largest bank by market capitalisation in the United States, aims to grow its revenue at a double-digit pace annually over the next three years in China, despite increasing concerns about the country's slowing economy.

John Rindlaub, president for the Asia-Pacific region at Wells Fargo, told the South China Morning Post in an interview that while the weaker global economy had prompted some foreign financial institutions in Asia to lay off staff or even close offices, the present environment gave the bank a rare opportunity to grab some top talent.

Earlier this year, loss-making Royal Bank of Scotland sold its Asian equities business to Malaysia's CIMB Group. More recently, Piper Jaffray decided to close its Hong Kong office to refocus on its home market in the United States.

'Many US company CEOs tell us that maybe 10 years ago the story in China was all about manufacturing in China, and then exporting to the US; and now the story in China is that they still manufacture in China' but sell to local Chinese consumers, said Rindlaub, a veteran banker who was appointed the top boss for Wells Fargo in Asia last year.

'It is a growing opportunity for many US companies' to sell in China, he added. 'We're not going to leave here. In fact, we are still hiring.'

China is the world's No 2 economy, behind the US. It has also become the economic engine of Asia, replacing Japan as its economy stagnated in the past decade. Beijing's official target for this year calls for the economy to grow by 7.5 per cent.

Rindlaub said the bank had an ambitious hiring plan to support the expansion of Wells Fargo's clients - mainly US companies doing business in Asia, especially in China, Singapore, and South Korea, and an increasing number of Chinese customers that want to take their businesses beyond the mainland. But Wells Fargo would not be pursuing retail banking business in Asia, he said.

Wells Fargo - widely considered an industry winner after the 2008 global financial crisis wounded many other big players such as Citigroup and Bank of America - plans to increase its headcount in Asia by 10 per cent over the next three years, mostly on the mainland and in Hong Kong. Many of the hires will be for sales and trading, foreign exchange, loans, asset management, client relationship management and products, said Rindlaub, who was based in Hong Kong as head of Bank of America's business in Asia in the early 1990s.

In Asia, Wells Fargo has offices in 14 locations with 4,200 staff in total, including 740 in Hong Kong, which serves as its regional head office. In late 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia in a nearly US$13 billion deal that took their combined headcount in Asia to about 1,000 in 2009.

Rindlaub said Wells Fargo's own analysis indicated that more than 100 Chinese companies provided a 'fit' with the financial services it could offer, and were ready to invest in the United States - particularly in energy and real estate.

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